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Message of love rings true in MTG's South Pacific

South Pacific

MIT Musical Theatre Guild.

Music by Richard Rodgers; lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II.

Book by Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan.

La Sala De Puerto Rico.

Dec. 12 and 79, 8 p.m.; Dec. 3, 2 p.m.

By Teresa Esser
Staff Reporter

South Pacific talks to us about what truly matters in life - not the color of your skin, or how much money you have - but the people and ideals you care for. South Pacific presents us with a startling contrast between the islanders (both native and French) who live by these precepts, and the Americans who have yet to discover them. During the course of the show, both American protagonists, Nellie and Lieutenant Cable, learn "what should be important in life."

This Rodgers and Hammerstein musical is a rather subtle play with a lot of plots and sub-plots. Although the story is set on an island in the South Pacific during World War II and most of the characters are either in the Navy or the Naval Corps of Nurses, the war is much less important to the play than the various fluctuations in the love lives of the main characters. Nellie (Jessica King W '98), a stereotypical blond nurse from Little Rock, Arkansas, entertains the audience with her beautiful singing voice and vivacious personality. A clear favorite with both the other nurses and the U.S. sailors, she surprises everyone by dating Emile, a middle-aged islander of French descent (Bruce Applegate '94).

Although Nellie and Emile have very little in common, the play makes it clear from the start that they are destined to end up together. It doesn't seem to matter to Emile that Nellie understands so little French that she cannot communicate with his children, or that she has no interest in reading any of the intellectual books in his library. It is completely irrelevant to Emile that Nellie's stay on the island is nothing more than a temporary work assignment, or that her mother and most of the U.S. Navy are completely opposed to her dating an older man, especially one who has already had two children by a (now deceased) South Pacific Islander. Emile pursues Nellie as if his entire life depended on their union, and she falls quickly for him. (Never mind that this gray haired, middle-aged French expatriate was forced to flee his country to avoid being punished for the act of murder.)

Comic relief in this boisterous and good-humored play comes from song-and-dance routines put on by the sailors and hilarious misquotations from Bloody Mary, (Grace E. Coln PhD '95), an enterprising island merchant. "You see this human head?" Mary asks. "Shrunken! You see grass skirts? You like? You buy?" If the answer is no, Mary screams "Stingy Bastard!" and goes on to her next victim. Coln's Mary steals more than one scene and provides a welcome respite from the "Yes sir, no sir" sailor dialogue. In addition, the instantaneous love affair between her daughter Liat (Sally Chou '98) and Lieutenant Cable (Anthony Young-Garner '98) provides another window into the problems faced by those involved in interracial relationships.

Another diversion from the main plot comes from the desire of Billis (Ulf Ekernas '99) desire to leave the naval base and attend a ceremonial dance on Bali Ha'i, the next island over. Because the sailors have been forbidden to leave their island, Billis enlists the help of Lieutenant Cable to take out a boat. Once the two of them get on the island, Cable is paired up with Bloody Mary's daughter Liat. Billis gets into trouble by getting up and dancing with native girls during a topless ritual.

The music in South Pacific is excellent. Musical Director Carson Schtze G does a great job with the orchestra, and the tunes themselves help to move the show along. Theatergoers are sure to recognize such tunes as "Some Enchanted Evening" and "I'm Gonna Wash that Man Right out of My Hair," sung with feeling and talent by King, Applegate and the cast. Other show highlights include a transvestal island dance put on by Billis and Nellie at the Naval Thanksgiving party. It's worth the price of admission just to see Ekernas fondling the curls of his blond wig and shaking his grass skirt and coconut-shell bikini top for the audience.

In all, Rogers and Hammerstein's South Pacific represents another outstanding effort by the MIT Musical Theatre Guild.